Tom Tancredo used to be something of a tea party hero. But not anymore, at least in Colorado. The ex-Congressman’s foray into the state’s gubernatorial race has essentially scuttled Republicans’ chances in the contest — and provoked outrage from local tea party members who feel betrayed after once counting Tancredo among their leaders.
Earlier this year, Tancredo was a featured player on the tea party circuit, giving an opening-night speech at Tea Party Nation’s big February convention in Nashville. And in Colorado, Tancredo was a big force in the movement, helping to convince tea partiers to work within the Republican party structure instead of forming a new party.
Last December, Tancredo wrote an open letter to Colorado’s 9-12 activists and tea party members, urging them to “think strategically” and arguing that forming a third party in the state was “suicidal and would only result in splitting the conservative vote and guaranteeing the re-election of liberals and socialists.”
So tea partiers worked with Republicans, from the precinct caucuses to the county assemblies to the state convention and finally the primary earlier this month. The movement ended up helping a tea party candidate, Dan Maes, win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. (A plagiarism scandal that hit the frontrunner, Scott McInnis, didn’t hurt). But before tea partiers could savor Maes’ victory — in fact, before Maes even won — Tancredo declared himself unsatisfied with both Maes and McInnis, demanded they drop out after the primary so that the Republican party could pick a better nominee, and then decided to enter the race himself, under the Constitution Party banner. As a result, Tancredo and Maes are now splitting the Republican vote — all but assuring a victory for Democrat John Hickenlooper. The TPM Poll Average shows Hickenlooper leading Maes and Tancredo 44.8%-26.3%-22%. And tea partiers are dismayed.
On July 25, before Tancredo made his run official, a collection of “Colorado Liberty Groups” wrote an open letter to the former Congressman, saying that “we trusted and listened to you among others” but now “you are subverting the process and our will.” They urged him to stay in the Republican party, and to respect whichever candidate voters selected in the August 10 primary. They said Tancredo’s threat to run “contradicts the sage advice you offered us.” But Tancredo decided to run anyway.
Then, on August 14, at an event in Eagle County, Tancredo faced his tea party critics in person. Members of the Vail Valley 9.12 Project urged him to end his run.
“Be a hero, be a champion of the conservative causes that you’ve always been — drop out of the race and come back to the conservative party,” organizer Michael Schneider said, according to The Denver Post.
“Tea Party folks are independent minded and patriotic,” the Tancredo campaign said in a statement to TPM.
So is Tom Tancredo. He encouraged committment to the Republican Party when that party had candidates for Governor we all could trust. Things have changed.
Tom Tancredo is the only candidate in the race with an unquestionable conservative record and the integrity to serve as Governor.
If the Tea Partiers look at the credentials and records the candidates, their choice will be clear; Tom Tancredo is the only credible conservative candidate.
But tea partiers see things differently.
“He’s totally, I hate to use the word, but he’s ruined [the gubernatorial race],” Lana Fore, the publisher of The Constitutionalist Today, a tea party-friendly monthly newspaper in Colorado, told TPM. Fore said she believed ego was driving Tancredo’s run, but that now “he won’t even get elected as a Wal-Mart door greeter, that’s how many people he’s alienated.”
“A lot of it has to do with the method he went about entering this race, the ultimatum he threw down, the hypocrisy he showed in asking us to get involved and not go third party and then he goes third party himself,” Lesley Hollywood, who leads the Northern Colorado Tea Party, told KDVR in July.
Southern Colorado Tea Party Chairman Sheldon Bloedorn told TPM that his beef with Tancredo predates the ex-Congressman’s third-party bid, and was sparked by Tancredo’s support in the primary for establishment favorite McInnis instead of Maes.
“He was among the people that originally anointed Scott McInnis to be the candidate,” Bloedorn said, suggesting that backroom dealing that culminated in the Republican party’s support for McInnis is antithetical to the tea party movement. “The only thing he has done is alienated us.”
“Tom Tancredo is trying to have it both ways,” Bloedorn added.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com